An Interview with Bob Strother

I first met Bob ages ago when we both served as Board members for the South Carolina Writers Workshop, now the South Carolina Writer’s Association. Bob has a wonderful sense of humor, but it’s his gift of storytelling that draws you in. As soon as he starts talking you’re transported to the front porch of a country home, where sitting in rockers and listening to stories is the finest way to spend an afternoon or evening. One gets lost in the language and rhythm, and lives of characters real and made-up. The best storytellers, like Bob, make you believe all the characters are people he knows intimately.

Meet my friend, Bob Strother, author of the Burning Time trilogy including Burning Time, A Fire to be Kindled and newly released Embers on the Wind. 

A Writer’s Window: The Burning Time trilogy is truly the story of Louise Carlyon, her family, and those friends close to her. It spans a lifetime that witnesses four wars and the real cultural and societal mores of those years.

Did you work from any kind of timeline – both of actual historical events as well as storyline events – that helped you keep everything straight? How much historical research did you do?

Your editor, Anne Kaylor, credits you with “. . . a knack for using language that fits the time period of his story.  . . . aptly parallel the different decades through which we move.” How did you hear, create and then maintain that language?

Bob: Several of the characters in the Burning Time trilogy are based on real-life people. The account of their actions, however, is fictionalized. It helps answer the questions about timelines and historical events if the reader is aware of this. I think it’s also important to note I had no thoughts of doing a trilogy when I began writing the first novel.

The idea for Burning Time had its nucleus in a 1961-dated carbon copy of a letter I discovered from my grandmother to one of her cousins. As a youth, I spent almost as much time with my grandparents as I did with my parents, and had heard (sometimes overheard) many stories about the family—but never of the events as described by my grandmother when she bared her soul to a distant relative. In a few typewritten pages, I found the heart—the very essence—of my protagonist from childhood to adulthood. The timeline began with her at eight years old and ended twelve years later in 1920.

I had a rough idea of major historical events dating back to the early 1900s, but refined those impressions with mostly online research of political campaigns and elections, the First World War, troop movements, and the like. I also researched music, literature, and consumer products to ensure the characters’ experiences reflected society’s preferences and opportunities available at the time.

Using the same research methodology, my grandmother’s notes, and my own memories, the chronology and the story lines unfolded, grew, and became living things. The best part … I actually felt I was rediscovering parts of my life, enjoying once more the people who’d meant so much to me in my younger days.

As I said earlier, I hadn’t originally intended to write a trilogy and felt fairly satisfied with the completion of Burning Time. But readers kept asking me, “What’s Louise going to do next?” After a while, I started wondering, myself. Then, after A Fire To Be Kindled was completed, I had no choice but to finish the story with Embers On The Wind.

I don’t think I was consciously aware the language I used reflected that of the various decades involved. Probably, on some level, I remembered books or movies about the those periods and tried to emulate it. It was easier with some characters than others—Fannie, for example. I could hear her words, even the tone of her voice, as if she sat beside me and whispered in my ear. And, on occasion, I might purposely toss in popular slang or an expression common to the time. It was Anne Kaylor who first told me that the language I used, while a bit formal, seemed to fit the times and circumstances.

A Writer’s Window: Which character was the most challenging to write? Which character did you seem to know the best? Which character surprised you?

Bob: All my characters came pretty easy. Many I knew and grew up with, and others—the truly fictitious ones—flowed out of my perceptions of how my grandparents’ family members would have interacted with them. Henry’s personality was the most difficult to describe. He was a troubled soul, in real life and in the books, and in many ways the “lost puppy” in a scary and confusing world. In fleshing out his character, I believe I got to know and understand him in ways I never experienced while he was alive.

I suppose Louise has to be the one character I knew best. She inspired the story from beginning to end, and, though I intended the series to be a kind of tribute to the families who practically raised me, she was always the focus, the fulcrum point for the Schmidt/Carlyon family’s ups and downs.

Who surprised me? It has to be See-Boy. I never realized, when he first appeared on the scene, he’d turn out to be so entrepreneurial and maybe play a little fast and loose with legalities of the times. That he took advantage of opportunities so well, and that he became a pillar of the black community as well as a stalwart friend to Louise and her family, is an indication of the respect I developed for his character.

A Writer’s Window: All through the trilogy Louise and her family have a close relationship with African-American, See-Boy, and his family. In Embers on the Wind, interracial and inter-cultural relationships really come to the forefront. Can you talk a little bit about how you chose some of the characters you did? Decided how they’d be included in Louise’s story?

Bob: My grandmother was women before her time with regard to her perspective on race and race relations, so that influenced my writing. She did manage a grocery store whose clientele were mostly black and she and they developed over time a deep and lasting mutual respect. Marcus’s character was based on a real person, the only black person I spent any real time with as a youth, so it seemed only natural to include him in the story.

All of See-Boy’s family came purely from my imagination. In the beginning I wanted to portray the Schmidt family as financially comfortable, and it felt time-appropriate that they employed blacks as domestic and laborer helpers. The more I got to know them, the more I admired them and the more they seemed part of the “family.” And I liked the unspoken affection that developed between Louise and See-Boy, something that would be controversial at that time, even dangerous if it came under scrutiny.

To me, one of the great tragedies in American history was the internment of thousands of Japanese during World War II. Maiko’s character provided a way to point out that grave injustice and engage both Fannie and Henry in actions they wouldn’t otherwise have had the courage or compassion for. It gave Fannie purpose again, and Henry a chance at happiness—things in short supply for most of their lives.

A Writer’s Window: Without giving too much away, how difficult was it to write in the deaths of a beloved character or two in Embers on the Wind?

Bob: You pose an interesting question, writing about death. It’s inescapable of course at some point; time passes, people age and eventually die. To die before one’s time, however, is harder for anyone to understand and come to terms with. So I tried to offset tragedy by focusing on the love—the very emotion that stokes the feelings of loss. And that also gave me the opportunity to add layers of character development by how others reacted to loss—some with even more love and compassion, others with violence.

A Writer’s Window: What does your writing area look like? How does it compare to your ideal?

Bob: I absolutely love my writing space, though it’s really more than that. It’s my lair. Where I go to feel utterly relaxed, or amped, if I’m writing and in the zone. It’s a slanted-wall bonus room on the upper floor of my house. I’ve always loved second floors or higher; I think I might be a cat. From my single window I’ve seen some of most fantastic and inspiring sunsets of my life. My writing area also has another necessity, a sofa, upon which I spend considerable time, and three doors—if I choose to close them—between me and the rest of the outside world.

A Writer’s Window: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

Bob: Aside from writing, I have two other passions: reading and exercising. Outside one of the three doors leading to my writing area, I have an exercise room complete with TV, stationary bike, elliptical, and Total Gym. Exercise isn’t really a passion; it’s more of an obsession. Like Grandfather Bob tells young John Berry in John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire, “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” I suppose I’m obsessed.

Reading is the siren song that often keeps me from sitting at the desk writing. I read fiction almost exclusively. Mostly crime-related—I’ve read everything Elmore Leonard and Robert B. Parker ever wrote. My favorite crime writer is John Sanford of the Prey book series, which I’ve read since the 1980s. Thanks to my wife, Vicki, I’ve recently started reading a mystery series by Louise Penny whose stories are set in Canada and which allow me to enjoy the occasional inclusion of cool French expressions. N’est-ce pas?

Bob’s trilogy, and his other books, can be ordered through moonShine review Press,  and indie bookstore Fiction Addiction in Greenville.  Bob’s books can also be found on Amazon

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Angel(R) Cards and My Word for the Year

img_2462[1]Though my daughter calls them ‘Mom’s voodoo cards’, my Angel® Cards have been a source of meditation, guidance, and at times needed kick in the fanny since I received my original set ages ago. My pastor – a Catholic priest – kept a set in the rectory and that’s who gave me my first set. So I’m pretty sure voodoo isn’t part of the equation. I do have a strong belief in angels though.

So what are Angel® Cards? According to the box they are inspirational messages and meditations. There are 72 small cards, each with a one word quality or characteristic such as kindness, obedience, (I went through a time when I picked obedience all the time!) strength, responsibility. Along with the word is a simple drawing of an angel – or two or three – illustrating the word’s message. An accompanying booklet gives the definition of the word in the context of meditation and inspiration.

The idea is to lay out all the cards, face down, and pick the card that draws you somehow. The word and image are messages for you. Hence the reason I got obedience more often than I wanted during a period of time, but it was the kick in the fanny I needed. So I use my cards at various times.

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When my oldest son was going into high school – we’d homeschooled up to this point – he was understandably nervous and no amount of reassuring or encouraging seemed to ease his mind. So I suggested that he draw an Angel® Card. Which he did. He drew Adventure: Your life is a grand adventure. Take risks. Explore the unknown. Journey forth into the great, wide open without preplanned outcomes.

The angel on the card has a walking stick and is looking out to the horizon. I thought it was the perfect card and the perfect way to approach entering high school. Zachary’s expression made me think he didn’t agree. I asked him what was wrong. He admitted he’d already drawn a card. I asked him which card he got that time. He’d gotten Adventure then too.

Several years ago my sisters and I finally when through our Mom’s jewelry, she’d passed away years before. As sisters do, we shared stories about Mom, laughed, and cried a little, and felt her there with us.

At the time one of us was going through a really difficult time, basically everything – job, relationship, health – had fallen apart all at once. She couldn’t imagine climbing out of that despair. I’d brought the cards and we each chose one.

The one chosen by the one of us at her lowest was Patience: Be fully available to the present and bring all your attention to what is actually happening now. Relax into the flow of life.

That’s what she needed to hear. Not to dwell on what had happened – though that was easier said than done –but to take each day at a time and know that time was needed. As she looked more closely at the card she noticed the angel was knitting. Not only is knitting a great example of patience, it happened to be our Mom’s favorite pastime.

Last year during my Sister Poets Retreat we four each drew a card. All of us have a particular connection to nature and each card we drew had an image of a tree. When I returned home I went through the cards and the only cards with trees were the four we picked.

So it’s the beginning of a New Year and on Facebook there’s been a thread suggesting choosing a word for yourself for the coming year. I decided to let an angel pick mine. My word for this year is Respect: Cultivate deep listening and act in ways that acknowledge and esteem yourself and others. Everyone and all life matters. Recognize, honor, and elicit the best.

It’s probably not the word I would have chosen. I was hoping for something more fun like Creativity!! But it’s a good word for me. I do respect and honor others. I’m not always so good at honoring myself, especially when it comes to respecting my writing and writing time. With four big projects this year, it’s a reminder I need to do better.

Like I said earlier. Sometimes I need a kick in the fanny.

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If you picked a word for yourself what was it or would it be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Interview with Courtney Diles

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most enjoyable aspects of being in a writers’ group is getting to know other writers. But sometimes someone special and different comes along and it makes your heart extra happy when they succeed. That’s the case for me with this month’s Author Interviewee, Courtney Diles.

Years ago Courtney was a high school student who attended our local chapter of a state writers’ group. Sometime during her fours years with us we learned high school students weren’t allowed in the group! All that liability stuff. But Courtney was already a beloved member and her writing and insights matched the adults in the room. In some instances surpassed them. We went to the Board and pleaded our case to keep her – she’d paid her membership dues after all – and while they still would not allow new high school students in, Courtney could stay. Her stories were always filled with the most wonderful details and images and we loved travelling with her in them.

Courtney’s all grown up now and here is the cover of her latest just-released novel!

Roxie Maeda is a college senior who hears voices in her head. When she first sees the demonic creature haunting her crush, she blows it off as a hallucination, but then it shows up in her Psych class, visible to everyone.  

A Writer’s Window: Where did the seed for The Pain Eater come from? Where did the idea of a ‘pain eater’ come from? (I’ve heard of sin eaters that were present at death beds to eat any unconfessed sins of the dying.)

Courtney: The Pain Eater idea actually had nothing to do with sin eaters. The idea came to me during a lecture by Don Piper, the author of the book 90 Minutes in Heaven. He was describing how, after his accident in the ambulance, he heard disembodied screaming. Later he realized it had been himself screaming. But I thought—what if there was someone else there feeling the pain for him? What if that person was doing the screaming?

A Writer’s Window: I see a bit of you in Roxie – her daring, her inquisitiveness, her drive to do good. Of your characters, is there one you felt you ‘knew’ when you were writing the novel? One who revealed him or herself as the writing took place?

Courtney: Roxie’s original name was Moxie, and that summarizes her character pretty well. My original goal in creating her was to make someone extremely different from me. I both succeeded and failed in that regard. I’d like to think she’s more flawed than I am—she can be very aggressive.

A Writer’s Window: What is the most fun, creative part of writing science fantasy?

Courtney: I’m not sure I’d call this book science fantasy. It’s more urban fantasy/paranormal. (I’d want to reserve the term science fantasy for stories that either blend science fiction and fantasy, like my YA project, or entail fantastical scientific systems like Brandon Sanderson creates in Mistborn, for example.)

I can say that the most fun, creative part of writing paranormal romance is figuring out how characters’ paranormal powers and attributes play into their sex lives. I did this better in The Memory Banker (the sequel to The Pain Eater) than The Pain Eater, and even better in a completely different super-secret project, but I can’t say more without spoiling.

A Writer’s Window: You’ve mentioned that your anxiety and depression play into your novels. Are you comfortable elaborating on that?

Courtney: The voices in Roxie’s head reflect the thoughts in mind. I don’t hallucinate them like she does, but the storyteller in me narrates my life like Narra, my anxiety manifests like her voice called Snark, and my depression manifests like her voice named Cruel.

A Writer’s Window: What is your writing space like? How close is it to your ideal?

Courtney: I write on a sofa in the living room. I’d like an office eventually, but in the meantime, it’s nice not to be shut away. I have two dogs who want outside and back in all day, so it’s good for them that I’m not shut up in an office.

A Writer’s Window: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Courtney: I read, I crochet, and I make jewelry. I’ve been going bananas crafting presents for this coming Christmas. This is related to writing, but I also go to the Louisville Writers’ Meetup most Mondays.

Thank you Courtney for the peek into your Writer’s Window! Best wishes on that ‘secret project.’ Can’t wait to hear more about that!

The Pain Eater is available in paperback from Wild Rose Press and as an ebook from Amazon here

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An Interview with Kimberly Lynne

This month I’m talking with Rock Hill author Kimberly Lynne whose debut novel, A Pocketwatch, Spray Paint & Morphine, was released this week!

“An unrecognizable Boom compels Viv, a retired librarian, out of her perfumed bubble bath. Dripping, confused, and curious, she soon finds the neighborhood emptier than her own nest. Her cherished husband is unreachable. Her geriatric spaniel is missing, as are all other creatures, except a single fish in a bowl.

As though thrust into a post-apocalyptic novel from her library shelves, Viv, no doomsday prepper, scours her deserted town for answers. Instead, she finds disparate survivors as unprepared as she: a pregnant young wunderkind, a cagey physics professor, and a boy too reminiscent of her own lost son.”

A Writers’ Window: The first time I heard an excerpt from Kim’s novel was earlier in the year when she read at an open mic. Her sensory details had us right there in that grocery store where the smells and sights weren’t what you’d expect on one’s weekly shopping trip. In her writing, Kim captures all the nuances that we register subconsciously, but may not always note on a conscious level – be these sensory or emotional.  This is what others are saying about Kimberly’s book.

“A post-apocalyptic adventure with the smarts of Michael Crichton. An addictive read.”
—Scott Wilbanks, author of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster

“Author Kimberly Lynne writes about a mysterious world-altering event with incredible compassion in a compelling debut that explores the connections between strangers, and the power of hope. A Pocket Watch, Spray Paint, and Morphine: How Viv the Librarian Weathers the Boom is a novel brimming with humanity.”
—Hayley Stone, author of Machinations and Counterpart

Here is what Kim has to say about her novel and her writing life. I know you’ll enjoy her wit and down-to-earthiness as much as I do.

A Writer’s Window: What was the seed for A Pocketwatch, Spray Paint & Morphine?
Kimberly Lynne: I’d known for awhile I wanted to get back to writing after the nest was empty. I think many women experience that ‘mid-life crisis/change’ thingy as a regrouping time. Our lives haven’t turned out—or the world we’re living in hasn’t turned out – quite the way we planned for or expected. So there’s an opportunity to look around, inventory our resources, discard some cluttery-type commitments, and refocus. That’s the ground the seed was planted in, I suppose, more than the actual seed itself.

I’d been having some very strange dreams . . . blame hormones or sunspots . . . A couple of themes kept recurring: me, choking on a huge wad of gum, and no matter how much I pulled off my teeth it just kept getting bigger. Not pleasant. And descending various flights of stairs that about half-way down began to disintegrate. Rotting wood, creaky timbers, typical haunted-house stairs with something very creepy at the bottom.

A bit of interwebs research (cheaper than a therapist, right?) led me to find a dream symbol dictionary. There, I learned, whether true or not, that choking meant I had something I needed to say, and my subconscious was somehow keeping me from saying it. And descending stairways are supposedly a path into our pasts. And because the stairs kept falling apart under me, my subconscious self didn’t want to go there.

Thus prodded, I began some half-hearted journaling. Coming to terms with where I’d been and where I was now. (I do want to make it clear that I had a lovely childhood with loving parents, and a very happy marriage as an adult. Totally boringly normal.) Whatever issues my dream-brain was conjuring up, were minor in the grand scheme, or perhaps, as Scrooge said, nothing more than the product of a bit of bad beef.

One night I just woke up, gasping for breath, as if I’d been drowning in a tub. The HandyDude wasn’t in bed next to me. Our dog, usually snoring along in harmony, was deathly quiet. For a moment, I felt as if I were the only being left in the world. And from there, Viv’s story coalesced within moments. The first draft took about four months to finish, and then the long hard work of creating something read-worthy began. Five years later, here we are.

A Writer’s Window: I love your cast of characters! Who was the most fun to write? Who was the most challenging? Why?
Kimberly Lynne: Hard choice. I love Wade dearly. They say all books (especially debuts) are autobiographical, and I’ll freely admit that there are many elements in Viv’s story I relate to on a deeply personal level. But her life isn’t mine. Wade, personality wise, is very much a reflection of my son when he was younger – thoughtful, insightful, geekily awkward, affectionate, with a very strong internal sense of justice. Wade just wrote himself through my fingers. He’s a great kid. The relationship between Dionne, the wunderkind (who’s much more loosely modeled on my math-genius daughter) and Marlowe, the professor, was uncharted territory for me. I had to really feel my way through those two. Lots of false starts and backtracking.

A Writer’s Window: How do you define ‘soft science fiction’? How is it different from regular science fiction?
Kimberly Lynne: When I think ‘regular’ sci-fi, I primarily get images of space. Interstellar travel, extra-terrestrial life, robots, AI. The future world, perhaps? Or a different world altogether. I also include medical, technical, real-world exploration and AI in the ‘hard’ sci-fi category, a la Michael Crichton. And somehow, the science has to be based in reality, despite being fiction, the internal logic has to hold together. I love reading these kinds of ‘hard’ sci-fi stories, and I have huge admiration for the authors that can weave hard technical facts and imaginative world-building so seamlessly.

I dove pretty deep into researching the electricity/magnetism aspects of Viv’s altered world – but the “Physics for Dummies” version proved about as much as I could grasp. I’m sure physicists will find plenty to wince at. But it was also important to me not to try to explain every single thing. Acceptance of the things we cannot change (or understand) is a theme that carries throughout the story.

Speculative fiction might be a better term than “soft” sci-fi. We speculate about that one ‘what if’ question. What if the world we know were different by only one small (or very large) detail? The focus of the story then becomes not the event or the environment, but instead something much more personal. How does the character change? What will she learn when her fundamental beliefs are challenged in such a three-dimensional way? How will this person come to cope in that new ‘what if’ environment? How does she come to live in a world that’s nothing like what she expected? Refer back to question 1.

I’m a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and their definition of ‘women’s fiction’ is that the story’s focus is a women’s emotional journey. By that definition, Viv’s story is very much women’s fiction, but I have hopes it will appeal to a broader base of readers that romance or beach read fans . . . my abhorrence of the ‘chick-lit’ term is a topic for another day. I accept that this book is genre-sprawly and doesn’t neatly fit into a tidy little box. Label it what you will.

A Writer’s Window: What, if any, ‘survivalist techniques’ did you research or practice for your novel?
Kimberly Lynne: This makes me smile. Our family did go through a bit of a couponing/stockpiling spree in advance of my husband’s pending retirement several years ago. I had a bonus room closet full of TP, rice, aluminum foil, whatever I could get for pennies that wouldn’t go bad. We’re still using up a monster case of bar soap, and I donated a lot of – okay, I’ll say ‘hoarded’ – supplies to local shelters when we downsized this past spring.

But we’re an outdoorsy bunch, camping, hiking and the like, so roughing it is in the blood. I can clean my own fish, but it’s a gloppy, prickly sort of task I’d much rather leave to the market. I’ve eaten plenty of game, from rattlesnake and alligator, to deer, dove, squirrel, and turtle, thanks to the hunters in my extended family. I’d have to be pretty desperate to butcher Bambi myself, but I’d like to think I could rise to the occasion if the choices were that or starve.

Plants are more my comfort zone. I’ve had an abundant veggie garden, but missed it this year due to our move in the spring. We did a project with my daughter when homeschooling that involved making acorn flour. It’s a lot of work for not much product, and doesn’t taste very appealing. My dad and aunt took me mushroom hunting when I was a girl and I’ve been on several wild-edible walks. There are some excellent reference books out there. I’m happy to share my recipes for Stir-fried Day Lily Buds, Cream of Sour-grass Soup, or Puffballs & Eggs. All feature ingredients I’ve cut from my own backyard. I grew up harvesting wild muscadines, blackberries, persimmons, and so forth, and cutting wild greens beside railroad tracks. Poke ‘sallit’ is not my favorite. I thank my depression-era parents for the ‘get it free” spirit, my ‘try anything once’ older sister for encouraging some well-informed experimentation. I might have a slim chance of surviving the zombie apocalypse.

A Writer’s Window: Please describe your writing space. How does it compare to your ideal writing space?
Kimberly Lynne: Before we downsized, I wrote at a counter top at a bonus-room window overlooking our expansive suburban front lawn and woodsy ‘beyond-the-lawn’. Lots of lovely distractions: hawks swooping at squirrels, bunnies galore, the twice daily commute of a huge flock of crows, and the heavenly scent of a flowering tea olive tree in the spring and fall when the window stood wide. Since this past May, our house is about half the size, but I now have a dedicated studio in one of the spare bedrooms. Desk, bookshelves, a bulletin board for inspiration. Ample, organized storage for office supplies is a delight. My drafting table is out of storage, so I’m able to work on some colored pencil and pen & ink projects as well. It’s in the sunniest corner of the house, and I really love having space all my own to let the quirky out.

A Writer’s Window: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
Kimberly Lynne: Reading is no doubt my favorite leisure activity. I’ve got a TBR list a mile long, and I try to read some fiction and something either scripture or devotional every single day. I love discovering debut & unknown authors, so readers, if you’ve found that latest gem, please let me know! Making art, seeing art, though as I age I’m finding myself more into the visual than performance side. My rock concert days are behind me. Now, I love the sound of silence. Museums, aquariums, arboretums, gardens, historical sites or geological wonders . . . anyplace I can go and enjoy the scenery AND learn something at the same time. I’d love to hear your readers’ suggestions for the off-the-beaten-path stops. Tell me your favorite hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint and I might meet you there one day.

Outdoorsy but not athletic means you might find me at the golf course or riding on the back of HandyDude’s Suzuki when the weather is perfect, but my fibromyalgia has historically made it tough to cope with temperature extremes. A recent med change gives me hope that I might be up to tackling a ropes course or zip-lining sometime soon. I did my one-and-only baby triathlon back in 2016 and didn’t die, so yah for me. Scuba lessons are on the Christmas wish list now that I’ve found an optometrist who’s willing to experiment and work with me — my vision simply sucks. As mentioned before, hiking, camping, nature walks, wildlife watching. Anything nature-oriented.

And always home and garden. I’m grateful for the cooler weather to get our asparagus and day lily transplants back in the ground for next spring. I like to grow veg because I like to cook because I like to eat! Tell me about your favorite cheese, please. HandyDude and I have a list a page long of things we’d like to do around the new (to us) house and yard. I’m really glad to have a functional — and pretty new laundry room! Thanks, Hon!

And thanks to you, Kim, and your readers for having me here.

A Writers’ Window: Thank you Kim! Congratulations on the release of your debut novel.

A Pocketwatch, Spray Paint & Morphine is available through Amazon

Follow Kim at Kimberly Lynne’s Curiosities

 

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A Beautiful Day for a Walk

Saturday was my birthday and I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful autumn day – blue sky, crisp air, and plenty of sunshine. A perfect day for a walk – actually a two-mile walk for Alzheimer’s Research in memory of my friend, Pat FitzGerald.

Pat was a ‘pew partner’ in our church. You know how we all find ‘our’ pew and tend to stay there for years after? We met Pat and her hubby Fitz when we first arrived at our new church and slid into ‘their’ pew.  We became fast friends and they invited me to join the weekly study and discussion group.

Pat was also a journalist and writer so I invited her to join a local writers’ organization I belonged to, South Carolina Writers’ Association. From her time with our group and her classes at Winthrop University she wrote a moving and globe-trotting family memoir. This is a picture of Pat, our friend Claire, and me at a writers’ conference in 2012 in Myrtle Beach. Pat is the one on the right with the big smile and artsy jewelry. That was our Pat. Always.


By the time her book was published, Pat was tripping over and forgetting her words and stories. Fitz moved the two of them to a pew further toward the back of the church so she wouldn’t be so distracted. Eventually she was unable to attend at all and Fitz rejoined us.

It’s been almost a year since Pat’s death from Alzheimer’s. The toll it took on Fitz is finally dissipating, a bit. So Saturday we joined him, his family, and a thousand other walkers to remember and support. But not only for Pat.

In the past several years other friends, and other family members of friends,  have also been diagnosed or have passed away from Alzheimer’s. So for Susan, for Joy’s mom, for Dottie, for Joanne’s aunt, for Ed . . . and so many others, we walked. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. May we one day see white flowers in this garden of color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a poem I wrote for Pat several years ago. The third section was published in The Petigru Review.

Slipping

I
My wife and I walked the streets
of Viet Nam, Spain, Russia,
Tahiti, Ireland and France
learned enough of the languages
to find our way. We told the stories
of our adventures in tandem
finishing each others’ sentences
laughing before the punch-line.

Today we walk and she stumbles
over potholes of memory. I hold
her elbow, guide her as she rights
herself. Our adventures confined
to between covers of books. We read
each other the stories, first alternating
the chapters, now the pages.
Our feeble practice of keeping her
from losing her words.

II
My friend held us in the teacup palm of a hand
with her whimsical, crystal-clear descriptions
of shopping in England’s trendy boutiques
rolling and shaping clay Bella Rosa wreaths in Italy
watching Vietnamese women stitch intricate handwork
picking vanilla beans and listening to ukulele strings
in Tahiti. Her flawless French, not her native language,

spun off her tongue, exotic as the fabrics she wore.

She is Chihuly’s The Sun.
Body and soul of spiraled-glass flames
in vibrant oranges and yellows radiating, reaching. Fired

in curiosity her daily mantra,
Oh that sounds interesting! Tell me more about that!
an invitation to fuel her zest for life.

She laughed with us
when words at the tip of her tongue
refused to leap, when she guided us
around the cracks in her stories.

Her fragility undeniable, her mantra rang hollow
when I mentioned Adult Sunday School. She forgot
I was there at her invitation.

Now she speaks in broken phrases
shards of a narrative she believes is whole

we gather the mosaic of mis-matched patterns
that don’t align and we are left wanting

as our friend thins to ceramic cream.

III
I tie my future to Mother’s image
Rita, my Tahitian pearl. A gardenia
always tucked behind her ear, she learned to hula
when she was seventy, danced her story
til she turned ninety. We sailed the South Sea,
flew the European continent collecting
and stringing ancestors like pearly shell necklaces.
Each fearless sea captain grandfather, ribald

ukulele-plucking uncle and exotic story-telling auntie
bequeathed me an old age lush and solid
as island mountains.

How can genetics lie?

At seventy-two I fear the loss of names, faces
of the living. Whisper, choke
on the name of my disease. Ghosts and burial plots

prove easier to find than words hidden
within my sentences. A friend assures
she won’t forget me when I forget her.
It’s damn little consolation.

A paper grants my husband legal guardianship
and my inner screaming has no voice. He restricts
my driving. My navigable world limited to church,
the Y and Earth Fare. We’re moving to condos
where Rita happily spent her final years
but I’m not helping sort, save and pitch.
If I must lose the memories why must I also let go
of my writing, our artwork and the souvenirs
that hold them?

In class I lengthen the cord from present to past.
Each memory
a favorite song,
a job once held,
a childhood game
a knot to grasp. My husband helps me cling to words
and their meanings while we read together
take turns with each turn of the page.

I love our new home, so many mementos
of a rich and exciting life. A new addition,
the condo newsletter with an article
about me and Mother.
Everyone here loved Rita.

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Digging In

I spent last week digging. It was both exhausting and exhilarating.

Saturday I finally removed this lovely chunk of tree from my flower beds.  I never planted it. It was one of those intruders that grows from a runner and takes on a life of its own. My son called it Audrey II. You know, the plant from Little Shoppe of Horrors. That’s pretty much what it’s been like over the years as I’ve trimmed, cut, hacked, dug at in the attempt to kill or at least maim the thing into submission. I scraped my fingers, caused them to bleed and it just grew back stronger.

Part of the reason it stayed is because I couldn’t get to its root. I didn’t want to trample the iris growing around it or the rose bush it was crowding so I played nice and worked around it. This year I finally had enough of the darn thing. Writers often talk about killing off their little darlings – favorite phrases or scenes – in order to make a story better. I decided a few iris and a rose bush could be sacrificed in order to get this tree out once and for all. Audrey II was coming out.

I dug, pushed and pulled to loosen the stump. At one point I took a hack saw to a large runner. It started raining but I didn’t stop. Eventually I was able to reach in and actually feel the space beneath the tap root, still 12 inches down into the hole, but there was a bottom! After snipping its last few runners I got the shovel, leaned my full weight onto the handle again and pushed. The whole digging took several hours, my arms and back ached that night but it was so worth it.

Friday my digging wasn’t quite as physically strenuous – though my bottom and my eyes were sore by the end of it – but the payoff was tremendous. As some of you remember from an earlier post, one of my current writing projects is compiling my parish’s history for its centennial next year. 

 

 

 

The documented story about our origins is simple. Two people of Syrian extraction died from the 1917-1918 influenza outbreak and Fr. Tobin from Columbia, SC traveled to Rock Hill to administer last rites and conduct the funerals. He became aware of the small community of Catholics [20 of them] who did not have a parish, and he appealed to the Bishop of Charleston to establish one for the area. Interesting beginnings but not really much of a story. So I started digging.

Remember these? For the past several weeks I’ve spent one full day a week scrolling through old Evening Heralds, one of Rock Hill’s daily newspapers – hence the sore bottom and the sore eyes. Friday I found the obituaries for those two men who succumbed to the flu in 1919. I now have their names. I know what part of Syria they came from and when. I know who their families were and what they did for a living.

I actually teared up because these two men, our parish ancestors, were now real flesh and blood. I had their story. As I compile the rest of the parish history I hope to remember this isn’t about dates and events, but about the people and their stories.

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A Visit with Judy Goldman

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Judy for several years. So many in fact, I’m not even sure when we first met. But I do remember riding with her and our friend, Claire, to a weeklong writing workshop. Claire and I attending as students and Judy as an instructor for the week. While Claire and I picked her brain a little bit about writing, what I remember is Judy’s genuine interest in our writing projects and writing life. She is one of the most generous people I know.

I’m the oldest of three girls so when Judy’s first memoir, Losing My Sister, was published I had to read it. With touching honesty Judy reveals the love and sometimes distance between herself and older sister, Brenda.

Now I look forward to her new memoir, Together: Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap, to be released in February.  Judy let me pick her brain again recently and here is what she had to say about her books and her writing.

A Writer’s Window: You’ve written poetry and fiction as well. What draws you to memoir?
Judy: I was perfectly happy writing poetry. Then my stanzas began stretching into paragraphs, and I realized I was leaning towards prose. That’s when I wrote my first novel, then the second one. But I really believe I was not good at fiction. Making things up is not my strong suit. What I really love is re-examining an experience I didn’t fully understand when it happened, an experience that still haunts or disturbs me. And that . . . is memoir.

A Writer’s Window: Fiction writers often have a ‘seed’ or ‘aha’ moment that propels their story. Are you comfortable sharing the definitive moment that propelled you to write your memoirs, Losing My Sister and Together: Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap?
Judy: Who knows where anything comes from in writing? But here goes:

In 2006, to relieve his back pain, my husband had an epidural, a procedure so routine it’s given to women in childbirth. The minute the needle pushed into his spine, he was paralyzed from the waist down. People kept asking me if I was going to write about this. “Never!” I declared. I’d lived through it; I certainly did not want to live through it again. But then, in 2008, I was held up at gunpoint at a dry cleaner. That incident did not scare me; it made me sad. I kept crying. Finally, I realized that my husband’s medical mishap and the holdup felt the same – both were proof that life can change in an instant. I could finally cry over what had happened to my husband two years before. And I could use that as a lens through which to explore the changes – both dramatic and ordinary – that occur in every marriage. That’s when I began writing Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap.

Within 5 days, 3 things happened that turned my life upside down: My sister was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, my daughter found out she was pregnant with identical twins, a daughter whom my brother had fathered and put for adoption 40 years before found him. Immediately, a title popped into my head: The Arithmetic of Family. I wrote the memoir this title was leading me to write. But 2 ½ years into the writing, I realized I had not written the memoir my lifelong preoccupation was leading me to write. I cut two sections of my book and was left with a memoir about my older sister and me – Losing My SisterA Writer’s Window: Merriam-Webster defines biography as a usually written history of a person’s life; autobiography as the biography of a person narrated by himself or herself; memoir as a narrative composed from personal experience.

Other than the obvious differences, as a writer what are the subtle and intrinsic differences in both the content and in writing a memoir that may not be so obvious?
Judy: An autobiography is the epic chronology of a life, the public life. A memoir is the private life. Autobiography emphasizes what is remembered; memoir emphasizes who is remembering. I’ll just add that the most important thing I’ve learned about writing memoir is this: It is not enough to convey what happened. We need to examine what the story means. The reward we hope for in writing memoir is self-knowledge. What was I thinking then? What am I thinking now? How do I understand the person I was then in light of the person I am now?

A Writer’s Window: You’ve taught memoir writing classes for several years at Table Rock Writing Workshop. What have you learned from your students over the years?
Judy: I’ve actually been teaching for about thirty-five years! I keep teaching because it’s a tremendously satisfying thing to do. I love how hard my students work to get their stories right – which inspires me to work hard to get my own stories right. And then, once we discover we can’t actually get everything right, we just keep doing our work in hopes of coming close. What a great thing for all of us to learn!

A Writer’s Window: Whose memoir have you most enjoyed reading? Is there one you’re waiting to read – whether it’s actually been written yet or not!
Judy: Oh, goodness, there are so many excellent memoirs. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Sarah Perry’s Before the Eclipse, David Sedaris’s Calypso, Decca Aitkenhead’s All at Sea. A memoir I read back in 2011 that remains one of my favorites is Darin Strauss’s Half a Life. I’ll also add Rosenblatt’s Making Toast.

A Writer’s Window: What is your writing space like?
Judy: I absolutely adore my writing space. My computer sits atop an old rolltop desk, which was the last gift my father gave me. So, when I write, I also get to remember my father – and also, my mother, who was not able to participate in the gift because she had Alzheimer’s at the time. My father was dying of cancer and living with my husband, our two children, and me. He spent every day at my mother’s bedside in a Charlotte nursing home. One day, he told me he wanted to give me a fabulous present to thank me for taking care of him and Mother. This desk is that fabulous present! I’ve never been to a writers’ colony because I can’t imagine ever writing on anything but this desk, which I’ve owned since 1979.

A Writer’s Window: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
Judy: The odd answer to this question is that I think I’m always writing! When I’m spending time with my sweet husband, sweet children, sweet grandchildren, I’m loving being with them – and I’m also unconsciously collecting experiences which I’ll no doubt write about! When I’m with my friends – some I’ve had since childhood – we’re talking about our lives, which is also what I do when I write. When I’m walking in the neighborhood, which I enjoy doing, I’m often thinking of some knotty problem in my work I’m trying to solve. So there’s only a thin, porous separation between living and writing – sort of a semi-permeable membrane through which things continually pass back and forth.

A Writer’s Window: What a perfect image of the writer’s essence. Thank you Judy for letting us peek into your Writer’s Window today!

Here is the link for pre-ordering Judy’s upcoming memoir, Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap.  Isn’t that a wonderful cover photo?

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